Talking about walking last week reminded me that being environmentally friendly often saves me money.
So why pay for a bus ticket when I can walk? Or pay for tap water when I can collect rainwater? Or buy paint when I could grind up earth like Friedensreich Hundertwasser did?
In fact, there’s a rich history of artists using environmentally friendly practices to inspire me. Some of my favourites include:
- Bob and Roberta Smith recycles the materials from his old paintings for new ones
- Robert Rauschenberg scavenged the streets for materials to include in his prints
- Pablo Picasso formed sculptures from recycled objects and incorporated collage into his paintings
- Kurt Schwitters, who turned using found objects into a complete style (Merz)
- and infinitely more, such as Nicola Carter (who is one of my co-members of the Not Just Collective) who recycles materials for her artworks, including an amazing dress made from blister packs
As I’ve mentioned before, I know refusing to buy new art materials will hurt my suppliers financially but, in actuality, I can’t imagine I’ll manage to stop completely as I don’t have the knowledge or skills to do so. Thankfully, there are more ethical suppliers to turn to when I do need to buy supplies. Buying from them may also encourage the bigger names to become more ethical in return.
So, really, I have no excuse. Saving the planet is good for me and my purse!
Last week, I came to the conclusion that no matter what I do, I’ll end up hurting someone. This left me feeling stuck; I felt I had to do something but I also felt I could do nothing that helped. I also felt pretty insignificant; that nothing I did would ever be enough. I am but one of billions of humans on this planet after all. The result was that my mental health took a sharp dip and, at one point, I even felt that maybe the planet was better off without me. The end result of all this? Nothing but anxiety.
Thankfully, I have a remedy for this: Walking.
Not that my walking helps the environment any. As someone that usually catches the bus, it makes no difference to the amount of pollution the bus causes whether I’m on it or not. All the same, I still feel virtuous for not directly causing the pollution myself.
That isn’t the only positive to walking. I also find walking helps tidy up my thoughts and clears the way for good and creative ideas to come through. Doing a little bit of research on the subject, I found an article at NBC News that confirmed this. Apparently, walking leads to something called “divergent thinking” that not only produces clearer thoughts and moments of revelation but, according to a Stanford University study, increases creative output by 60%!
So, as an artist, I definitely feel I should walk.
It struck me last week that, whatever way I look at it, I will derive pleasure from hurting others.
On the one hand, as I have already acknowledged, my art practice – which I rely on for good mental health – is damaging the planet and so hurts others.
But, on the other hand is the fact that, in going ‘carbon neutral’, I shall have to stop supporting the environmentally unfriendly supply chain I purchase my art materials from. So, whilst I may feel good at doing my bit to save the planet, I would not just feel guilty at wasting the materials I already have but also because refusing to purchase art materials will hurt my suppliers financially.
Consequently, I am in a bind: whichever path I choose, it will hurt others.
Interestingly, I see this bind repeated elsewhere. For example, the Bank for International Settlements has published a report, The Green Swan, stating that the challenge of keeping global warming to 1.5° C threatens the stability of the banking system… yet, if global warming exceeds 1.5° C, the threat of climate and social collapse becomes far greater.
Additionally, the publication Geophysical Research Letters has reported that cleaning up air pollution could actually add to global warming. Yet we can’t possibly allow the pollution to remain, can we?
So it all seems very much a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Following on from last week when I was beginning to appreciate how precious rainwater is, it dawned on me that all my materials are precious – I can’t just carry on consuming as though it has no consequences. Creating art consumes the Earth’s resources just as anything else does.
This put me in mind of Brett Bloom’s Petro-Subjectivity, in which he makes the point that we can’t just create a ‘greener’ version of what we have now if we’re still dependent on extracting the Earth of it’s resources – sooner or later we will end-up where we are now, facing the death of the planet.
However, I know from experience if I stop creating art, my mental health starts to suffer. It also strikes me that if we take things to the extremes Bloom proposes, essentially pressing the reset button and returning to pre-industrialisation, death might actually be more preferable to life! So I believe a compromise has to be reached. At the very least, it will buy us time for transitioning more smoothly to what Bloom proposes.
The conclusion I’ve reached is, rather than indulging my ego by consuming materials with wanton abandon or having my ego eat away at me by denying myself the pleasure of creating art, I must pacify my ego by reducing the amount of materials I use. In deciding upon this action, I realised that by reducing the amount of paper I use (from A1 to A2 in this instance), I reduce the amount of all the other materials I use.
Reducing the amount of materials I use, also means I live with my mistakes. So when I messed up the black line like I did in the m of “my”, instead of trashing the piece and starting again like I was tempted to, I had to live with it. (I also had second thoughts about the doodles I added but again had to live with them).
I feel living with my mistakes will make me more conscious about the act of creation itself. As someone who struggles with anxiety, this creates anxiety in itself – will I be too anxious about making mistakes to get into the zone I need to be in to be creative? I’ll just have to wait and see.
As someone who struggles with anxiety, and the mood dips that go with, the climate crisis affects my mental health – and, therefore, my wellbeing – greatly. I have some really dark thoughts that leave me feeling powerless. However, in my better moments, I can be more proactive and take steps to widen the gaps between the dips – one of which is my art practice. But, then again, as the climate crisis looms so large in my mind, I know I cannot just carry on as normal using materials as though doing so has no consequence. Rather, I am compelled to examine my art practice in order to lessen the harm I cause the planet and, by extension, my mental health and wellbeing.
As a watercolourist, water is a prime ingredient of my art practice. Yet, research tells me that water security (our access to water) is a major factor in the climate crisis – to the extent that some predict our desperation for water will cause wars. So I feel it irresponsible to effectively steal water from another area (Cumbria) by getting it from the tap – especially after I discovered what is required to get it here and make it suitable for drinking. Also, if water scarcity is going to grow as an issue, I imagine the monetary value of water is going to grow in relation. So it makes sense to make adjustments now. Consequently, I have decided the responsible thing is to make my art practice reliant on rainwater rather than the stuff that arrives at the tap. So I placed a bucket outside and waited…
Despite the weather forecast for imminent rain, it took three days for it to arrive. In that time, I had to retrieve my bucket after it blew away in the wind, and place a brick in it to stop it blowing away again. After the rain had arrived, I was able to help myself to half a cup of rainwater and use it for the above painting.
Making myself reliant on rainwater in this way, quickly brought home the point of water scarcity. No longer could I just turn on the tap and paint as and when I wanted. I had to wait for it to rain first. I then quickly remembered that this was winter – what would it be like in the summer? I’m thankful, I can tell you, that I’ve only made my art practice reliant on rainwater at present! (But ought I not extend it to the rest of my life? How would I go about doing that?) And I’m not about to pour that dirty paintwater down the sink as I normally would. That stuff is precious! What is more, if I were inclined to do so, I’d make sure that point was reflected in the price I asked for my paintings. However, not pouring the dirty rainwater away creates another issue as my cat has a habit of drinking it. So I’ve now had to commandeer a plate to place on top of it. The final point I want to make is everything that is in the rain – all the pollution they talk about and whatever else United Utilities would filter out for me – is now in my painting.